May 26, 2010

Unrecognized Love

Jonathan loved David. That's what the Bible says. They were soul-mates. The Bible does not call them "friends." It cannot be explicitly determined from the text that their love had — or didn't have — an erotic expression. The Hebrew has been heavily redacted, and the Greek and Latin amended by the excision and addition of suggestive or obfuscatory text. So while there is no explicit evidence of erotic fire there are clear signs of concerted efforts to clear the room of smoke.

All of this is irrefutable and objectivity true. Still, one of the more tiresome responses from the reasserter wing, in response to a statement such as that above, is that it somehow represents an eroticized Western culture's failing to understand the nature of friendship.* On the contrary, it is this unfounded assertion that represents a heterosexist or (at worst) homophobic culture's inability to recognize loving and devoted same-sex relationships, understanding them only in objective and erotic terms.

Even in frankly eroticized and libertine "gay cultures" gay men know the difference between their friends and lovers. Many gay men have deep, devoted, lasting friendships with other men in whom they have no erotic interest whatsoever. It is the heterosexist culture that doesn't want to ask and certainly doesn't want to be told about lifelong, monogamous, same-sex couples, — and so tries to conceal or erase or trivialize them by calling them "just good friends," or "roommates," or "war buddies who are sharing an apartment," or "bachelor girls" doing the same for purely monetary reasons. The "love that dare not speak its name" is bound and gagged by a culture that doesn't know love because it refuses to see it, and is afraid to acknowledge it.

This has been going on for over three thousand years, and it is about time to stop.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG



*An example, from the recent "traditionalist" paper written for the House of Bishops (page 11 in the draft version), in reference to any suggestion of a same-sex relationship between David and Jonathan.:

Here there is the obvious difficulty of arguing from an agenda rather than from explicit textual support. But it also exposes the weakness of modern western culture in not being able to foster or even understand deeply committed same-sex friendships that do not involve physical sexual expression.

Of course, this is precisely not a matter of an "agenda" (other than the heterosexist agenda to maximize Scriptural negativity towards same-sex relationships while minimizing anything positive); and the nature of the relationship as based on "love" rather than "friendship" is explicit in the text. If one were to change the names and recast the story with a man and woman, no one would argue it was about "very good friends." In fact, one need not engage in such speculation, since the same Hebrew verb for "love" of David is used in the same chapter (1 Samuel 18) in reference both to Saul's son Jonathan and his daughter Michal. David would later make it clear that the former was a more wonderful and greater love, in a text bowdlerized in the Vulgate.


Update 6/2/10: The thinking continues in part 2.

43 comments:

R said...

...heterosexist or (at worst) homophobic culture's inability to recognize loving and devoted same-sex relationships, understanding them only in objective and erotic terms.

Yes, I think this hits very close to the heart of the matter. Objectification, in particular, is among our most blinding tendencies, particularly when it comes to the dignity and worth of others' most cherished relationships.

Seeing David and Jonathan as lovers illuminates so much of the surrounding text, I don't think it can be dismissed at all lightly.

Anonymous said...

Love, Friendship, I can only surmise what these mean to the heterosexual Christian. My interpretation of the "Christian" meanings of these come from the arguments I hear raised against what I know "love" and "friendship" to mean to me, a gay man.
I hear arguments that who I am and how I live are a choice, implying that I could "choose" to "love" someone other than my partner, my soul mate, the person I feel God has gifted. How foreign to me would a relationship be minus the leap of my soul, at the sound of his voice, the flash of his grin, the touch of his hand. How demeaning would the sexual act be for both if it were reduced to an obligation or only the satisfaction of some animal urge. Humans are capable of many things, including getting used to the less than wonderful things of life. So I suppose I could get used to living with someone whom I didn't "love" (gay definition) and I would learn to love them as one loves an aunt or uncle or dear friend, neither of us ever knowing the heights of joy in true bodily communion, spiritual union and fulfillment of human obligation to honor fully an other. Or I could learn to love them as one loves a co worker or a loyal pet who serves us well, or a garden wall that we grow used to and remains ever as a fixture of comfort and stability. I guess I could choose to have an other than my mate as my best friend, my confidant, the person from which I hide nothing, with whom I am free to be me with all my quirks and fears. When I hear the arguments against my "lifestyle" and my "choices" in whom I love, I realize that we have two very different Gods, and as God is love, I guess we have two very different "loves"
Bruno Finocchio

Fr. J said...

"All of this is irrefutable and objectivity true."

If the Bible doesn't say something we want to hear, and there's a possibility that editing occurred some time down the line, then it is clear that some no good editor must have blotted out the truth. Take, for instance, the passage in John 8 about the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus appears to boldly defend from those who would stone her to death for her sin. At the end of the passage, when there is no one left to condemn her, Jesus says to her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more." Most scholars believe this passage has gone through much redaction, as has much of the rest of John. So, since that is the case, then perhaps what he was writing in the sand was excised from the text because it said, "I'm totally going to teach you a lesson, you adulterous scum." And perhaps as soon as Jesus had dismissed her and made her feel that it was safe for her to turn her back on him, he picked up the nearest rock and bludgeoned her to death.

Hey, you can't prove that's not what's going on in that passage. After all, the culture that produced John's Gospel was pro-Roman and anti-Jew, which means it was probably pro-adulterer since the Romans were notorious lechers. Clearly, if you argue against my reading of this passage on the grounds that I'm crazy and that this isn't in the text you're just capitulating to your own hetero-anti-adulterist views instilled in you by our culture. Clearly your bigotry against monogamists is the only reason why you wouldn't accept this rather obvious and enlightened view of what the scripture says.

Christopher said...

What is silly is that I have a couple of very good male friends, who are just that friends, as you say, as if we cannot distingish. And then I have C, who is my friend and much more. What is most silly, however, is this separation of same-sex love into erotic and non-erotic, as if my non-sexual friendships with men contain no eros. Or that my sexual love for C is without fraternity or filia. This false conception that C.S. Lewis and Anders Nygren among others gave to us in misreading Greek notions of love is a problem.

Erika Baker said...

Tobias
you say that the text clearly speaks of love not friendship, and that it would be very clear what was meant if it was about a man and a woman.
But what about the disciple Jesus loved?
Is that the same word?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks for the comments. R., I've addressed all of the usual weak efforts to expunge any hint of "love" from this story in R&H. Suffice it to say it is the usual catalogue of denial and/or legerdemain on which heterosexist cultures have drawn so extensively for centuries.

Bruno, thank you for this moving account. The tendency of dominant groups to objectify and diminish the lives of others is one of the horrors of our times. That some of these take place in the name of Christ is blasphemous.

Fr. Jonathan., don't quite know what you're heading at in this "analogy." It does not appear to equate with, or even very well model or resemble, what I'm saying is "objectively true" but appears to rest entirely upon what is not said in the text. I, on the contrary, am dealing with what is said in the text, which speaks only of "love" and never of "friendship." If you would care to address my actual statements rather than construct a straw man (or woman?), that might be more productive. Argument by analogy can be useful, but the analogy has to be recognizably connected to the original statement. What part of my statement do you believe you are capable of refuting?

Christopher, Lewis (much as I admire him, and give thanks for helping me return to an adult Christian faith!) had a number of blind spots; among them his thesis that the various terms of "love" in classical and koine Greek could be divided into neat and isolated compartments. Had he been more of a philologist, he would have known this to be true. As it is, the lexical domains covered by eros and agape overlap considerably, and the latter is used of conjugal love in the LXX (Gen 24:67, and in a text parallel to that of David and Jonathan, with identical reference to "soul" attraction in Gen 34:3).

Efforts to eliminate love from the story of Jonathan and David cast more light on the eliminators than they do on the text.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Erika, your note came while I was writing the above.

I am speaking of the Hebrew text. As I say, the Greek version has cut out 1 Samuel 18:1-6, the scene that portrays the "joining" of Jonathan and David in terms echoing the attraction of Shechem to Dinah.

My point is that there is a perfectly good word in Hebrew, as in Greek, to describe friends. More importantly in the current context, there is a particular office called "The King's Friend" -- and none of these terms are used of Jonathan and David. (The issue gets a bit clouded because the ancient Hebrew for "friend" became the modern Hebrew for "wife" -- so there is overlap even there.) Probably the best translation, that preserves all of the ambiguity (to the extent it is ambiguous) would be "mates" -- a word that covers the full range of pairing from close friendship to sexual congress.

As to Jesus, and the Beloved Disciple -- and scholars are divided as to who that is -- first of all we are dealing with Greek here; that is important to note. The "love" word is not the same but phil- in "See how he loved him." (Jn 11:36) but it is the same (agap-) in Jn 13:23. Jn 11:5 similarly describes Jesus "loving" the whole Bethany household. (I tend towards the opinion that the "beloved disciple" is Lazarus, btw. As I say, there is a range of opinion on the matter, not unlike the conjecture over the author of Hebrews...) Looking to John's Gospel as a whole, however, his most frequent use of the agap- words is to describe the love of God for Jesus, the love of Jesus for the disciples, and the love of the disciples for him. I don't think John ever uses "agap-" in a conjugal sense. This is part of the issue: one has to look at how authors use words in order to get a sense of meaning. The author / redactor of 1 Sam 18, has the Hebrew root "ahav" for both Jonathan and Michal's feelings towards David within a few verses, it is hard to see a rationale for the switch. As I say, if you changed the gender of one of the figures in the D&J story, no one would say it wasn't a romance; while if you did that to Jesus and the disciples it would still clearly be a "familial" or collegial relationship, or like that of leader and followers.

Language is a mirror in which what we see often reflects what we want to see, or want to avoid seeing.

rick allen said...

Why stop there? What about "Love your neighbor as yourself." The verb in Leviticus is precisely the verb used to describe David's relationship to Jonathan. We are clearly being directed to have erotic relationships with our neighbors just as we engage in autoeroticism. Or must we again "spiritualize" what is plainly in the text?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

The difference, Mr. Allen, as surely you know, is the context. Such pretended ignorance (I assume it is pretended) is beneath you.

Moreover, you are closer to the truth than you are apparently aware. The verse in question uses the word re'ah (translated "neighbor.") This is precisely the word for "friend" missing from the account of David and Jonathan. However, it is also the word that became "wife" in modern Hebrew; and there is a rabbinic interpretation that this verse shows that God demands a man must love his wife as himself, as they are one flesh, and a spouse is one's "closest neighbor." Moreover, Paul makes exactly this point in Ephesians 5:28.

But enough of such silly comments from the peanut gallery. If anyone wants to address the matter with a degree of maturity, civility, and intelligence, that would be welcome. But the inability to frame a mature response, and the contemptuous tone, reveals a great deal about you -- and I can only speculate as the reasons you find it difficult to take seriously even the possibility that Jonathan's love for David was more than friendship, but formed one of the greatest love stories in Scripture.

Kevin K said...

Does this undermine the position that Jewish people, such as Paul, would have no concept of a loving and committed relationship between men? If the Old Testament recognized a committed sexual relationship between David and Jonathan, then Paul, well versed in the Torah, would be expected to have known of such relationships.

This certainly seems to gut the current argument that Paul's teaching on same sex relationships had no frame of reference for committed, loving same sex relationships.

Kevin K.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Kevin, from all I've read, it appears the Jewish attitude (at least in the period from the composition of Leviticus -- which most scholars fix in the time of the Exile) to male same-sexual relationships focuses on the sexual act, not the quality of the relationship. I don't think Paul would have approved of same-sex marriage by men any more than any other Jew -- or Greek or Roman -- of his time. The Greek culture permitted pederasty, but frowned on adult men having permanent relationships, as did the Romans -- this was a permitted use of male prostitutes and slaves. There were very rare exceptions, but it is a mistake to think that anything approaching same-sex marriage was common in the cultures of Paul's time, at least as publicly approved. (There were exceptions, but they were usually considered scandalous and held up to ridicule.)

But to your points -- there are several things going on here:

1) It is certainly possible that one of the several strands that make up what we finally have in 1 Samuel come from a time when a male same-sexual relationship may not have been looked at negatively. (David also has idols in his house, and no one seems to blink at that, in spite of it being a serious crime under the Law -- which, as I note, likely postdates these events.) At least one strand of the story of Saul, Jonathan and David is highly charged with emotional tension, and perhaps erotic tension.

2) Did the author(s) of the original, unredacted account(s) understand what (t)he(y) w(as/ere) dealing with? It is possible for people to describe a situation without understanding all its implications. It may not indicate approval. It is also possible to live in denial, and simply not "see" the full implications even what one is describing.

3) My view is that when the texts came to the Hellenistic world (in which pederasty was not so uncommon, the translators were shy of including 1 Sam 18:1-5 (not "6" as I wrote incorrectly above) as too suggestive of pederasty, with which they were familiar. (In one of the two strands that make up the story, David is a boy, and in the other a young man.) Similarly, Jerome found "your love for me was... greater than the love of women" to be a bit too much, and added "for their children" to his version.

So I don't think this has any impact on the Pauline frame of reference, and his condemnation of what was approved in Gentile circles: pederasty and prostitution / abuse of slaves. That doesn't mean he would have approved of same-sex marriage, which I think he would likely have considered inconceivable, and about which it is very unlikely he would have had a frame of reference!

Fr. J said...

"It cannot be explicitly determined from the text that their love had — or didn't have — an erotic expression. The Hebrew has been heavily redacted, and the Greek and Latin amended by the excision and addition of suggestive or obfuscatory text. So while there is no explicit evidence of erotic fire there are clear signs of concerted efforts to clear the room of smoke."

Admittedly my last comment was typed late at night in haste and thus contains perhaps more snark than is necessary, for which I apologize. But having said that, the analogy that I was drawing responds directly to what I've just quoted from your post, namely the notion oft repeated by reappraisers that somehow the absence of a direct statement that David and Jonathan were not lovers is an indication that they actually were. It's trying to prove a negative, which would never be taken seriously if we were to apply the same kind of argument to any other part of the scripture for any other reason. Hence, the example.

I understand what you're saying, that the text does not explicitly use the word friendship but rather the word love. But this argument doesn't hold water for several reasons. First of all, it's not entirely accurate. The word 'ahav is used in scripture to refer to both love and friendship, as in the case of 1 Kings 5:1 which describes King Hiram as one who has "always been a friend to David" or in the Book of Esther which speaks a number of times of Haman's "friends" and his wife. Of course the word can also be used to refer to a lover, as in Psalm 88:18 which says “You have removed lover and friend far from me.” In that case, it’s obvious that ‘ahav means lover since it is being contrasted with a word for friend that can mean nothing else. But as you yourself point out, there is no word to contrast with in the case of David and Jonathan, so we have to infer meaning from context, which points us to a strong and deep friendship that doesn’t appear to include any sexual union. No smoke, no fire, not even a whiff of embers.

So too, when the word does refer to love, it is not at all clear that this love has to be erotic. As someone else has pointed out, this is the same word that is used in the Levitical version of the love command. It’s also a word that’s used to describe familial love. Genesis 37:4 tells us that Joseph’s brothers hated Joseph because they “saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers.” It is quite doubtful that what they meant was that their father was having an incestuous relationship with him.

Finally, given the array of sexual sins that David committed in his lifetime, it does not follow that even if he were having some kind of sexual affair with Jonathan that it would be any indication of a scriptural mandate for the blessedness of same-gender sex. Of course, one would expect some sort of reproach from God if this were the case, as what we see with the taking of Bathsheba. But this too is an argument from silence. What the lack of rebuke for David’s affair with Jonathan indicates is nothing, and that’s because there is no indication that there ever was an affair between David and Jonathan... (continued below)

Fr. J said...

(Continued from comment above)

...I certainly do not intend to insinuate that gay and lesbian people have no capacity to understand same gender friendships that are not of an erotic nature, and I apologize to you on behalf of reasserters everywhere (using my non-existent authority to do such things) if someone has said things that have indicated this. I have gay friends who I care deeply about and who care deeply about me and I know quite well that they know the difference. Nor do I wish to diminish in any way the way in which a gay or lesbian person might find identification and comfort from the relationship between David and Jonathan, which is clearly a deep and loving bond that goes beyond what most friends are usually able to share. But that being said, I do believe that there is much that can be learned from this story of deep and abiding friendship once we stop trying to eroticize it, and it frustrates the heck out of me that this dry well of an argument is rehearsed over and over again by reappraisers in our church. My frustration is borne neither of homophobia nor of “heterosexism,” but of a deep sense that the continual advancement of such an obviously flawed argument serves to undermine real and honest conversation about what the Bible has to say about human sexuality almost as much as the equally silly arguments made by reasserters on the basis of Sodom and Gomorrah.

This is a dead horse. I beg you to bury it.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Straight men look at the story of Jonathan and David and see friendship. After all, they are the norm and feel nothing erotic for their friends. Gay guys look at the way Jonathan fell head over heels for the gorgeous shepherd lad, and recognize an erotic charge. Jonathan wanted to give up everything for his love. Friends might tend only to share.

What of David? Ever the opportunist, he accepted Jonathan's love and returned it after a fashion. He went on to heterosexual scandals, Bathsheba and all that, raising questions only at the end with his irrational attachment to his beautiful son, Absalom.

The scholarship I've read comes down to the farewell scene in the field where "David exceeded himself." The Hebrew here is said to be incoherent, but suggests swelling of some kind, emotional perhaps? Straights don't bring the feelings to this story that gays do, but the fact that they're in the majority doesn't mean that the reading of those outside the majority isn't likely.

Straights have always lived in the company of gays and seldom noticed a thing (when they did, usually pretended not to). They're still complaining about Gay Liberation, being forced to acknowledge that the way they perceive reality is only part of the story, one not shared by some 4 to 10 percent of their fellows. (Bad enough to give up he as a universal pronoun, as though the male experience encompasses all.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Fr. J., for a more sober response. It is very helpful, even though I do not agree with your conclusions.

First, I am not attempting to prove a possible erotic element in the relationship of David and Jonathan on the basis of "the absence of a direct statement." That is why I found your analogy flawed. Perhaps my reference to the absence of "friend" threw us off course. I cite it from the editors of the Theological Wordbook of the OT -- they apparently felt it worth noting -- in the article on re'ah. An interesting mention of none-usage of a word in an article about a word! I assume this notes the oddity of the precise word for "friend" not being used in the story of the greatest friendship in biblical literature.

Obviously words have a range of meaning, and I do not rely upon the absence of re'ah as crucial. I see the primary evidence for more than friendship in the textual changes in the LXX and Vulgate, clearly meant to downplay a possible erotic side to the relationship; as well as other features, in particular the covenant rite in 1 Sam 18:1-5. Further, ch. 20 includes a text identical to the "pick up line" from Song of Songs, recognized by critics as unmistakable in erotic intent (in Song of Songs, anyway, but passed over by nearly all critics in the context of 1 Samuel 20!); Saul’s curse against Jonathan (concerning his friendship with David) citing the Jonathan's mother’s nakedness; and the awkward hiphil without an object, where David either "made X larger" or more likely "caused to intertwine" (based on a less common meaning for gdl. Nothing is explicit; much is implied.

Then, there is the story itself -- Have you tried the experiment of reading it with genders adjusted for propriety? Or, if David were much younger then Jonathan, read as a Hellenistic romance!

So the argument is not based on absent evidence, but on evidence which is suggestive rather than conclusive. You are welcome to disregard that evidence, but you have not addressed it here, nor have most of the critics who wish not to see any eros in the story.

My real difficulty is with the strong reactions people show to the suggestion even of the possibility of a "love story" here. I find this as frustrating as you do the suggestion to the positive. It is also surprising, given the vehemence of these responses, that they inevitably make the counter-points you do. It seems odd so to contest a proposition and then follow up by saying, "But then, David was a bad'un," or "But it’s not important even if true..." Why is it so important to quash even the possibility of a positive portrayal of a same-sex relationship if it in fact accomplishes nothing? That's the $64 question, it seems to me.

I am glad you acknowledge that gay persons might find "identification and comfort from the relationship between David and Jonathan..." It is your insistence that the possibility of an erotic component must be eliminated that seems unnecessary. I certainly do not assert that an erotic element in the story would provide "a scriptural mandate for the blessedness of same-gender sex." It is an historical, not legal or theological account, after all. Just because it's in the Bible doesn't mean it is "approved."

But the reason this reading of the story keeps coming up is that very identification to which you refer: gay men reading this account can identify with it, and have no trouble seeing the possibility of erotic elements in it. Perhaps it takes one to know one? In this it provides a role model for devoted male same-sex couples.

A real and honest conversation will require some willingness to allow that people read the Scripture differently than you do, and perhaps for different purposes and ends, and allow for the possibility that you may be mistaken, and need not insist on a point of view which accomplishes nothing for you.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Murdoch (Gary?) I was responding to Fr. J. when your note came through.

You read the story much as I do: David the opportunist, perhaps by Chapter 20 actually reciprocating Jonathan's devoted and "of human bondage" kind of love.

But you're so right that most straight men are oblivious to gay relationships. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Tobias, I'm glad you frame this discussion in the time of the Exile, which is where Judaism as we know it was codified. You don't go on to note that the story of Jonathan and David, whatever its basis, comes to us as a story, so we're actually trying to analyze fictional characters -- Holmes and Dr. Watson, Spock and Kirk, etc. There seems to be no evidence for the actual existence of David and Solomon, grand as their stories are. They're as legendary as King Arthur. (An inscription has been found which may read "house of David" but Jerusalem in the 10th century was at best a village, far from a capital.)

Of course, Abraham, Joseph, and Moses are even less attested. Our faith certainly shows the power of good stories.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Murdoch, given the strength of oral tradition, I'm willing to attribute a bit more historicity to David than to Holmes! King Arthur may be closer the mark, as there probably was some Roman/Celtic warlord horsing about Cornwall in the dim dark ages. David similarly represents a whole lot of aspiration and idealism vesting a vestige of a memory of some early tribal conflicts and personalities.

Still, the Scripture is what we have before us, and the "historical" books do provide insight into human nature. This is one of the great purposes of narrative -- which this part of the Bible is.

Murdoch Matthew said...

I forgot the passage where Saul calls his son "David's whore." (Again, with much textual confusion. Ancient idioms and all that.) Of course, parents are often suspicious of their children's relationships. Still, another chip of evidence.

Lively discussion of a dead horse, what?

(Yep, Gary's my husband. I've finally mastered signing in to Google so I can post under my own name.)

Murdoch Matthew said...

Tobias, I wish we were sitting around nattering rather than taking up valuable Internet space going off topic.

There's a question how far fiction can tell us about human nature. It certainly gives us a great sense of insight into the characters, but we're really reading the redactions of an author's psyche. I get lost in some stories, but that's an interaction between my yearnings and the author's text. (Interesting how words alone can create worlds more effectively than the most extensive computer-generated images. Before Avatar there was The Iliad).

Hamlet is a fascinating character, but critics suggest that the fascination lies in watching an actor try to bridge contradictions unlikely to occur in a real person. What do the scriptures, which assume a flat earth and a static creation, tell us about human nature? As much as our real, rich human nature can read into their unhistorical narratives.

David's not the same guy in the Goliath story as in the quasi-historical ones. Jesus isn't the same person in Mark and John (much less Paul). Centuries of rich commentaries have resulted from bridging the differences. (As the incompatible nativities of Matthew and Luke are happily every year in the parish Christmas pageant.)

This is to you, mostly. You don't have to post it. --Murdoch

MarkBrunson said...

Frankly, I'm not sure it matters. Any of it.

The Bible doesn't mention Native Americans - they still exist. It doesn't mention the Jet Stream. The Sargasso Sea is little in evidence. The information on the harshness of Antartica is hardly evidenced at all.

The Bible - and I will say it again, for the hearing impaired - was written BY HUMAN BEINGS! Gasp! Shock! Blasphemy! Inspiration is not dictation. Jesus came for us to have life and have it abundantly, no to drop off a reading list. Stop trying to figure out "the place" of Scripture - it simply is part of the whole of the life of the believer. To give it a place, is to create a new Pantheon to have convenient niches for your gods - all in their "place."

rick allen said...

"I can only speculate as the reasons you find it difficult to take seriously even the possibility that Jonathan's love for David was more than friendship."

Toby, I don't think I excluded even the possibility. I was reacting to your absolute certainty: "the nature of the relationship as based on "love" rather than "friendship" is explicit in the text." If it is, it's rather surprising how it was overlooked for two and a half millenia.

The Hebrew "'ahav" is as broad as the English "love." In putting the Tanakh into Greek the Septuigent plainly favors the "friendship" reading. Why is it that we assume that we are better at parsing the nuances of the text than those ancient Jews for whom both languages were still living?

(I do not venture into the question of whether LXX is in fact a translation of the ancient Masoretic text.)

It is nevertheless interesting to see a whole new generation finding in Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and John, Paul and Timothy, the centurian and his "pais," erotic relationships which our forebears wouldn't have dreamt of. A means is found by which the text validates what before it disapproved.

Josh Thomas said...

Bless you, Tobias, you've told the truth.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

This must be brief, as I have a very full plate today.

Murdoch, that is a somewhat "free" translation of a difficult turn of phrase, but it does convey the anger level, which is followed by physical assault!
On yr second point, yes, this gets us into larger issues about the use of narrative -- fictional or historical. I fall back on Santayana's maxim. In addition, fiction served for years as a kind of "personality inventory" before Myers and Briggs. It can also be a kind of "talk therapy" or in shared contexts, "group." But this is another topic... an important one.

Mark, it only matters to the degree it is given or denied weight.

Rick, if you don't see the difference between friendship and "loved him as his own soul/body" then I can't help you. And you are apparently unaware of readings of the David and Jonathan story as "far more than friendship" dating back to the High Middle Ages, and before. And that's just the ones that are recorded! Even the Rabbis recognized this as far more than friendship. though they would not have approved any erotic reading. You seem to be confusing "love" with necessary eroticism, which is a connection I am not making or denying.

Thanks, Josh.

rick allen said...

Toby, perhaps my disagreement with you is more a matter of words. When I read you as saying that the text requires reading something more than friendship into the relationship, my understanding was that you were asserting that "something more" to be erotic in nature. Now, I think, you are saying, not so.

We would probably both agree that there exists considerably more in human relationships than friendship as a sort of tepid acquaintance and the passion of erotic love. Certainly to love another as one loves one's own soul/body goes beyond what is present between two casual friends. Nevertheless that is the love we are commanded to have in Leviticus, to love my neighbor as my self--my body, my soul, my life. Jesus says that greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. This, again, is no casual friendship, but a preference of another's nefesh to mine. And I can't help but think of the old Greek definition, one soul in two bodies.

I think it an easy contemporary habit to reduce this sort of passionate devotion to erotic desire.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Rick,
My problem is the over-reaction to the suggestion even of a possibility of the erotic as an element in such a very deep relationship, that it "reduces" it somehow. This may not stem from homophobia or heterosexism, and may simply be prudery.

But I will note that the Bible has no difficulty "eroticizing" the love of God for Israel or Israel for God (with all its failings) and no one seems to think that "reduces" things. On the contrary, it is advanced as one of the specific reasons for blessing marriage! And, as I noted above, Paul has no trouble seeing the "body-love" of the "love of neighor" as part of the nuptial consent, in which erotic love is not only assumed, but prescribed.

It is the effort to construct bulwarks between Eros and Agape that I find, well, artificial. All of the denials begin to sound a bit "Clintonesque."

Equal weights and measures, Rick, equal weights and measures.

rick allen said...

"It is the effort to construct bulwarks between Eros and Agape that I find, well, artificial."

Just as I find the effort to confound them mischievous.

The Latin and Greek languages separate out these various senses with different words, though their usage isn't as uniform as some would imagine. This is some small evidence of their distinct meanings.

English and Hebrew tend to use the one term--love/'ahav--for the variety of meanings, and this equally suggests a something-more-than-casual relationship between them.

My own sense of the Christian tradition is that the erotic is most commonly treated as a metaphor for agape. The Song of Songs seems plainly an anthology of erotic verse whose inclusion in the Kh'tuvim can be attributed to a later allegorical reading. The Christian mystics also come to mind, St. John of the Cross's "Dark Night," a short erotic lyric expounded in The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul. One can't use a metaphor unless there is, in fact, some underlying commonality.

As to the place of the erotic per se, I'm not sure I would give it such credit as, say, Plato gives it in Socrates' speech in the Symposium, leading one from desire for bodies to desire for the Good itself. I find David's great erotic adventure, not in his relationship to Jonathan, but in his infatuation with Bathsheba, and the crimes he committed to possess what he desired.

So I think it neither blinkered nor prudish to distinguish agape and eros. That is decidedly not to say that eros is in itself evil, but that, unlike agape, it has certain bounds which, broken, can lead to great suffering. And you only have to watch soap operas for examples of that.

David |Dah • veed| said...

On a personal note, Father Tobias, would you clear a question that nags me whenever Rick Allen comments here. Do you like being called Toby? You do not sign your name that way here in the blog or in your comments on other blogs. I ask because whenever he uses it, I cringe and I feel he means it as a put down, like he is addressing a small boy, instead of a man who is a priest, a religious and very learned.

But that is just me.

Christopher (P.) said...

Eros . . . has certain bounds which, broken, can lead to great suffering.

And when one "confounds" them (to a certain extent, which does not mean identify them), it can lead to great joy--dare I say it, grace.

Baby and bathwater, Rick.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Rick,
I will expand on all this in a separate post. Yes, much depends on definitions. I think your primary error is in seeing Eros as necessarily requiring sex. I thought I'd made it clear (as did Plato!) that Eros is not synonymous with sex -- it lies in yearning as much as consummation. However to drive a wedge between them tends to gnosticism, to which Platonic thinking clearly contributed (or paralleled). It is the abreaction of folks like you and Dr. J to a perfectly defensible and objective statement that I find telling and revelatory. Again, more in a separate post, in which I will lay out on CS Lewis' own terms why the relationship between D&J is based on Eros.

Dahveed, my nickname, is only used by my family and a very few old friends. Why Rick adopts it from time to time, I have no idea, as I've never met the man, and know nothing of him except that he is a Roman Catholic -- and even that may be an assumption and a mistaken impression. Attribute to him what motives you like, it merely mystifies me! It is certainly not something I would do to anyone else.

Christopher (P) right on! Suffering is at the heart of the love of God! That is the Paschal Mystery.

rick allen said...

"Why Rick adopts it from time to time, I have no idea."

My mistaken idea that that's what you most commonly go by. Didn't mean to presume anything by it. I consider "Toby" a pretty cool name--but so is "Tobias."

Grandmère Mimi said...

Some of my best friends are gay....

When I read the story of David and Jonathan, it's quite easy for me to entertain the possibility that the relationship was erotic, which, as I see it, is what Tobias is saying. The narrative lays it on thick about their love for each other, and if the pair were a man and a woman, I believe that nearly everyone would assume that they were lovers, whether the relationship was consummated or not.

Murdoch says:

There's a question how far fiction can tell us about human nature. It certainly gives us a great sense of insight into the characters, but we're really reading the redactions of an author's psyche.

Murdock, even if fiction is the redactions of the author's psyche, I would never underrate the power of stories (fiction). I wrote a post on my blog titled "It's Not Just a Novel" about what I read as a child and as a teenager, and, in my formative teen years, the novels of Jane Austen helped form my moral center as much as reading the Bible and teachings in religion classes. Again, at least for me, stories (fiction) carry within themselves great power.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Grandmère Mimi,

The question isn't the power of story. Story is all-powerful. We do distinguish nowadays between story that's just made-up and story that's based on evidence. We have to sort out such things because in our minds, it's all story.

What I was parsing was Tobias's statement that fiction can tell us a lot about human nature. The characters in fiction aren't human. They're creations of a human author. They may be very rich. But, like Hamlet, they may be implausible and gain their richness from readers' (and actors') attempts to bridge their contradictions.

I love Jane Austen. While reading, I feel like I'm living in her world. But the human nature so beautifully invoked is not Elizabeth Bennet's, but Jane Austen's. I admire her genius, but it's possible that her masterful illusions wouldn't so play out in real life. (No matter. I love visiting Elizabeth and Darcy, and smile every time at Austen's wry comments on the continuing foibles of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.)

Jonathan and David are characters in a text, to whatever extent they're based on oral history. They sound as gay to me as Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, but in the case of Lincoln and Speed, we can seek historical grounding for our speculations. Jonathan and David exist only in story, and our speculation deals only with how that story is told in the text. But as characters, they're as real as Holmes and Watson, which is to say more real in our minds than actual historical persons like James Buchanan and William Rufus King, who have faded from modern awareness.

Tobias, I thought about taking this note over to Grandmère Mimi's blog, but you and Rick Allen seem to have wrung this topic dry, so this off-topic coda shouldn't intrude too greatly. By the way, thanks for your 27 May comment addressed to Fr. J -- some good textual nuances that add to my understanding of the story. We do keep returning to this narrative nowadays. Who else is there in the tradition, except for Daniel and the Chief Eunuch and the Centurion and his lad?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Mimi.

Murdoch, since we are now off topic, but in a productive and interesting direction (I'll return to the topic in a subsequent post, as I promised) -- I think Madame Bovary is a wonderfully rich example of the phenomenon you describe. Here is a woman whose life is ruined by reading novels and thinking she could act like a person in a novel. But then... she IS a person in a novel! Flaubert was quite aware of the wonderful quality of this, as was Shakespeare, of course, who lived b- and tri-level story lines. Hamlet a wonderful example, with the play within a play, and even Hamlet's oration on the comparing himself to the actor when it comes to showing grief -- the audience forgets (one hopes) that they are one step further out of the onion, and that Hamlet is in fact a character in a play, reflecting on who little he can "act" like an actor in a play! Marvelous!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Murdoch, sorry about misspelling your name in my comment. I know that the characters in fiction are not real humans, but these words of Elizabeth Bennet serve as a guide for me in my blogging:

"I hope that I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."

Judging from Austen's writing, I'd say that the sentiments are hers, but they came to me in the words of a character in a novel.

When I was 16, I wanted to be Elizabeth Bennet, but I consider that no bad thing, as she's quite a good role model.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Here is a woman whose life is ruined by reading novels and thinking she could act like a person in a novel.

And, in a good many ways, my life was saved by reading novels.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

When I re-read my last post, I realize how sloppy it appears. It has been a weary day. Trinity Sunday can do that -- and I had a baptism today too, though a very happy one, since both mother and child were very ill earlier this year, and they both came through with flying colors.

We have ventured somewhat into the realm of higher Lit Crit here. I have to say I find Murdoch's view a bit hard-edged, though I acknowledge that the characters in a novel aren't "people." But neither are historical people, "people" anymore, in the sense that we can interact with them in reality. In imagination, yes -- but the real question has to be, ultimately, "Where does human action or interaction occur anyway?" So much of it is "in the mind" -- but where do you draw the boundary between mind and not-mind?

I am a big fan of Samuel R Delany's writing, and he plays with all of this quite a bit, dealing with the boundaries between "fiction" and "reality" -- to which there are many layers and between which one finds porous boundaries.

But this has indeed wandered us into territory very far from the topic. Suffice it to say that fiction, like history, can teach us things; as can Scripture.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Oh Lord, I thought we'd done with this discussion.

(Thank you, Tobias, for dragging yourself to the computer after a hard day's work. Like dishes after a meal, it might have waited. I'm grateful not to be left waiting, however.)

Neither are historical people, "people" anymore.

Precisely! That's the point. All narrative is story, and lately we try to base certain sorts of narrative on fact. We think and remember, and order our memories, in language, which has only arbitrary relations with its subjects. (Gary keeps saying "Catachresis" -- yes, this is higher literary criticism, attempted by an ex-Baptist, retired-editor practitioner. As Tobias observes, the edges are hard, though maybe just rough.)

Again, Mme Mimi, I'm not questioning the value or impact of your reading -- just pointing out that, as you say, the sentiments are the author's, not those of a real person. Narrative teaches us as much about human nature as the author understands. In Austen's and Flaubert's cases, that's a lot. In other cases, even when the text is Scripture, not so much.

Gary keeps telling me that "Nature" began as fiction -- stories about natural phenomena. Lately we've been relating our understanding of nature to evidence, but our discussion of it still has the form of story. Fiction. Narrative. That's not to demean the discussion, just to put it in a proper context. Language. Fiction and Reality exist -- but discussion of reality uses the same words and conventions as fiction.

Mind and Not-Mind? We know and see everything in the "Mind" -- the vasty universe, our feelings, our sore toe. I'm pretty sure that our senses report on real things, but we can discuss the sensations only with words, in language, in the same way we discuss imaginings. This is the confusion between Mind and Not-Mind. The Not-Mind has no direct access to reality. Many people give the same reality to a convincing story that they do to experience. More, often.

I hope you've gone to bed and are resting well, Tobias. Thou too, Mme.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Murdoch Matthew, Esq., Mme. Mimi rested well. In fact, my better half tells me that I fell asleep whilst reading, still wearing my glasses.

Tobias, I'm going now, and I'll trouble you no further with my nonsense and trivia. We have all broken your rule to stay on topic, but you, dear Tobias, must set us the example. :-)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Murdoch, and you too, Mimi. There is more sense than "nonsense" and truth than "trivia" in what you say. As for setting the example, well... it is difficult when the topic swerves to one that interests me, and I did my undergraduate thesis in Narratology...

But I am still preparing for a workshop I am to lead for the clergy of West Virginia on Hermeneutics, starting a week from now. It is almost finished, but I must devote the rest of today to that task.

Meanwhile, my church remembered the Gulf Coast in prayers yesterday. Sounds today as if BP has thrown in the towel as to emergency repairs, and is falling back on the diversion technique that won't be ready until high summer. God have mercy! But now I'm even further off topic...

Erika Baker said...

But the unspoken question here is whether there is any authority in the David and Jonathan story, whether it should inform what we believe about homosexuality and how we should respond to it.

If it is "just" story, then it has the power to touch some but not others and you really can't say anything else about it.
If it's somehow more authoritative than that because it's in the bible and if therefore people grant it more authority, then how we read it becomes, at least to Christians, a little more important than how we feel about Hamlet or Elizabeth Bennett.

If I read the subtext correctly, then Murdoch doesn't grant the story any authority, whereas Rick reacts to strongly to Tobias' post because he gives it considerable authority.

MarkBrunson said...

Exactly, Erika.

Thank you!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

A note on today’s John 7:53 to 8:1. This is n o t original to John as Fr J. seems to think.

Codex Bezae shows it originally came after Luke 21:37ff, contrasting Judas's faithlessness toward his Master to the woman's other kind of faithlessness toward h e r (the Husbander).

The parallel stories about Abram and Sarah in Genesis 12:11ff, 20:2ff and Isaak and Rebekka in 26:7ff show that the point was the approval or not of the man.

However, Jesus' attitude was too lax for the Philosophically minded... and the story of the woman in the Temple yard was cut out, and "restored" only in Byzantine times to t h r e e different places (7:53-8:11, 7:36, and 21:25) in the gospel of John, which lacks the Matt 5 and 19 stories about moixeia.